COLUMBIA — Dawn Staley has long hoped for a sellout crowd at Colonial Life Arena. Monday night against No. 1 Connecticut, the head coach of the second-ranked South Carolina women’s team will get it.
USC on Friday announced that the 7 p.m. showdown between the lone two unbeaten teams in women’s basketball is officially sold out. It will be the first sellout crowd ever for the South Carolina women’s team, and the largest crowd ever to watch an NCAA women’s game in the Palmetto State. Colonial Life Arena has a capacity of 18,000.
“I’m tremendously excited for our community, our university and our students that the game is sold out,” Staley said in a statement. “It’s an atmosphere that will create memories for our players, long-lasting memories. I’m hoping that there is magic in the building for us to play well and keep our home winning streak going.”
The women won’t be the only USC basketball team to play before a sellout crowd next week. South Carolina announced that the Feb. 13 men’s game against No. 20 Kentucky at Colonial Life Arena is also a sellout. It will be the second sellout this season for the 25th-ranked Gamecocks men, with a chance at three straight — the school said only limited tickets remain for Wednesday’s home game against LSU and likely No. 1 NBA draft pick Ben Simmons.
The South Carolina women have won 45 consecutive games at home, a streak that began in 2013. USC led the nation in women’s basketball attendance last season with an average of 12,293 fans per game, and leads the nation again this season with an average of 14,557. Monday will become the best-attended women’s game this season, eclipsing a contest between Duke and Kentucky at Rupp Arena which drew 17,150.
The largest crowd ever to see a women’s basketball game at USC is 17,712, against Clemson in 2002. That was the inaugural event at Colonial Life Arena, and tickets were given away for free.
The Gamecocks moved to 22-0 Thursday night in a 78-68 victory over No. 18 Kentucky, in which USC played the second half without two-time SEC Player of the Year Tiffany Mitchell, who left with a lower back bruise but is expected to play Monday. Connecticut (21-0) has a game remaining at home Saturday against East Carolina, which is 9-13.
Monday will bring with it plenty of pomp and circumstance, beyond a meeting of the top two teams in women’s basketball. SEC Network’s “The Paul Finebaum Show” will broadcast live from the arena, with guests scheduled to include current head football coach Will Muschamp and former head football coach Steve Spurrier. The network’s “SEC Now” program will also air live from the facility.
ESPN2 will televise the game, which will be the third No. 1 versus No. 2 showdown in USC women’s basketball history. A top-ranked South Carolina team was defeated 87-62 by then-No. 2 UConn last season in Storrs, Conn., and No. 1 Louisiana Tech defeated No. 2 USC 71-58 at Carolina Coliseum in 1982.